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FAKE, FAUX, OR REPRODUCTION - CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
by Bob Brooke

As long as there have been antiques, there have been fakes and reproductions. But telling the two apart can often be difficult even to the trained eye of an expert. But antiques, however, have become fashionable and as a result many of them are being copied or reproduced as fast as can be. Like copies of clothing and jewelry, many pseudo-antiques are so cheap-looking as to be obviously shams. But there are clever copies, too, on which time and effort have been spent to make them look authentically aged. Because fakes and reproductions look so much like antiques themselves, particularly to those who know little about the real ones, people who want to buy or sell old things, should do all they can to learn how genuine or false they are.

Pseudo-antiques fall into one of three groups: cheap imitations, clever fakes, and sound reproductions. All three have been made to such an extent during the 20th century that probably every major group of antiques has been cloned. Itís easy to be fooled, particularly if the maker crafted the article with intent to deceive, but the most careful fake is no more comparable to the antique on which it was based than the garish imitations of fine old china and lamps sold in many discount stores. Their quantity should be one clue to their recent origin. The details that havenít been copied carefully enough for them to be reproductions is another.

On the other hand, a clever fake is sometimes offered as a genuine antique, particularly in the case of furniture. Old wood taken from an antique chest and combined with new wood to make another piece is a practice thatís becoming common, especially in England. However, much effort has been expended to copy characteristic details of style and to simulate aged materials, a fake is still a counterfeit.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a good reproduction as long as the owner doesn't try to pass it off as a genuine antique. Many reproductions are such faithful copies that it would be difficult to tell the difference, if it were not for the lack of wear; years of use and care add special character to any antique. Valuable Austrian Biedermeir furniture is a good example. So many pieces were destroyed in World War II that the art of reproducing them is flourishing. And some of the reproductions look as good or better than the originals.

Price is no guarantee of authenticity. Some people buy reproductions, particularly in furniture, because they think they cannot afford genuine antiques. Actually, reproductions that are careful replicas are about as costly as the originals. This is as true of a mirror in American Chippendale style and a brass hanging lantern as it is of important pieces of furniture. The cost of the labor necessary to produce even a clever fake built of wood, of which only one-fourth is old and the remainder treated to look old, is so great that the price must be nearly as much as that for an antique. Anyone who thinks that a pine spice chest a century or so old is overpriced at $225 to $350 has only to consult cabinetmakers or repairers about mending a broken drawer or replacing a missing one to realize that a reproduction would cost more than an original. Still, however much a reproduction costs, it cannot be expected to sell for as high a price as the antique on which it was modeled.

Reproductions have been popular for a great many years, but the number of antiques being reproduced and sold as such has never been greater than at the present time. Furniture is most widely represented, for there is not only a great deal of it but also the examples range from certain styles of the 17th century through the 18th and into the early Victorian era. All sorts of household furnishings and accessories from wallpaper and textiles to pressed glass, silver, and numerous things made of other metals have proved popular as reproductions, too.

Comparatively few people know enough about more than one field of antiques to tell a fake or reproduction from an authentic piece. This is as true of antique dealers as well as the general public. An antique dealer who is an authority on 17th- or 18th-Century furniture may have only superficial knowledge about the pieces made during those years. By the same token, the pressed glass expert may know little about silver and china.

What, then, can the average person do? He or she can study exhibits and collections, learn from books and other people, look and listen before and during auctions, compare a questionable piece with an authenticated one. Above all, he can ask questions of a reputable dealer, of experts such as curators and others who work with antiques, and of collectors or anyone who has studied some special field. Collectors usually admit to having bought one or more fakes or reproductions while they were learning the distinguishing characteristics of their chosen item. Those people who think they know more than they do about antiques, who close their minds to the fact that fakes, imitations, and reproductions exist, are the ones who are disappointed about their discoveries or are fooled in their purchases.



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